The Gilas Pilipinas couldn’t have chosen a better day to redeem themselves from their loss to Lebanon last week. Last night, on National Heroes’ Day, the team put on a show with a 38-point win over Saudi Arabia. Thanks to the victory, the Philippines now has a 3-3 win-loss record in the FIBA World Cup Asia Qualifiers tournament.
In Jordan Clarkson’s first home game, he led the team to victory. The NBA star picked up 23 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The young Kai Sotto also landed 16 points and 13 rebounds. All in all, the team ended more than comfortably, with a scoreline of 84-46.
The crowd was ecstatic. Nearly 20,000 fans were packed into the Mall of Asia Arena to watch the team slated to represent the country in next year’s World Cup.
Coming together for redemption
In the Gilas’ first game in the fourth window of the FIBA Asia Qualifiers against Lebanon, the team came in looking to be the favorites to win. With a diversely experienced roster including Clarkson, Sotto, Dwight Ramos, and Kiefer Ravena, the Philippine team seemed as strong as ever before.
But alas, Lebanon went to rally late in the game, taking advantage of the Gilas’ mistakes. After handing 21 turnovers, the Philippines eventually fell, 85-81. This marked Lebanon’s second win in a row against the Philippines.
So it’s no wonder the men in blue were so hungrily looking for a win yesterday at the MOA Arena. However, it wouldn’t come too quickly. The start of the game saw Saudi Arabia in control of the game, meanwhile, the Gilas were looking to find rhythm. Eventually, Ramos started a 10-0 run that brought the Philippines, including the crowd, to life.
The third quarter saw the Philippine side extend their lead to up to 25 points. Apart from Clarkson’s continuous shooting, Sotto was also influential in keeping the lead, as he contributed 13 rebounds and four blocks. The team continued on to win by 38 points in front of a huge crowd of supporters.
Although the win was far from perfect, and the squad will need more preparation ahead of the highly anticipated World Cup next year, the victory definitely is one way to boost morale and motivation within the team. Especially in front of the loving home crowd.
Charging forward as a team
However, as great as it is to play and win in front of a crowd made up of your fans, it was impossible to brush over the crowd’s boos every time Gilas Head Coach Chot Reyes appeared on the big screen at the arena.
Although the jeers started to fade as the Philippine side continued to build their lead, until the boos were eventually turned into cheers over the victory, even the players couldn’t ignore it. Clarkson, Ramos, and Ravena all expressed their disdain over the boos after the game.
In the postgame interview, Clarkson said, “He’s our coach. He’s one of us. He works hard. He put us all together. From when I’ve been here, he pours it all out in the game.”
“This next World Cup, whatever he got, we have each other’s backs. Support each other going through this. I’m here with my coach. I know everybody in the locker room is, from the top, MVP and everybody. People didn’t appreciate that at all so moving forward, I think we need to change our actions and show some love and peace here,” Ramos shared as well.
Despite the controversy, however, it may be a good sign to see all the players supporting one another, from the court to the locker rooms. Even though our players have different backgrounds, it’s heartwarming to see them bond over their victory.
Plus, their selfie after the game was adorable.
Ahead of the FIBA World Cup happening next year, and with all the preparations leading up to it, support from all angles will be paramount to the team’s success. And yes, that includes the support from the crowd.
The Gilas players will now be returning to their respective teams all around the world. And as they do, they will definitely be taking this memorable window in their career as they continue training individually, preparing to come back as the Gilas for their coming games.